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A Q&A with Alan Baines on the 2020 Around The Island Race

by David Schmidt 3 Sep 08:00 PDT September 6, 2020
Conanicut Round Island Race © Cate Brown

If you’ve been lucky enough to sail on the historic waters off of Newport, Rhode Island, you’re familiar with Conanicut, the large island due west of Newport and home to the town of Jamestown. Given the number of fine sailors that have long graced Rhode Island’s world-famous Narragansett Bay, and the obvious allure of sailing around islands, it was only natural that the Conanicut Yacht Club (CYC) began organizing an annual circumnavigation race of their namesake island in 1927.

Today, the Around The Island Race (Sunday, September 6) serves as a fantastic opportunity for New England sailors to follow in the wake of giants, enjoy a fine day on the water, and—for some—perhaps take a crack at bettering the standing course record.

The CYC offers racing and cruising divisions for this classic 20-mile race, and normal years regularly attract fleets numbered in the triple-digits. 2020, of course, is no normal year “thanks” to the still-burning pandemic, so while fleet numbers may be down, the sailors who are fortunate enough to have found spots on the rail for this New England classic can look forward to fine views of one of the state’s most iconic islands, as well as a chance to harness some of Narragansett Bay’s legendary breeze.

I checked in with Alan Baines, chairman of the Conanicut Yacht Club’s 2020 Around The Island Race, via email, to learn more about this classic circumnavigation race.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, how do these stack up to previous editions of the CYC’s Around the Island Race?

We delayed the opening of the registration this year, because of Covid. So right now, we are behind last year, but in general, most entries come in during the last two weeks, so we are not worried.

However – we don’t really know if we will get 50 boats…or 150 boats. Some races have seen lots of entries–more than usual.

Looking at the entry list, what classes do you expect to be the most competitive this year? Also, what makes these classes hot?

J/109’s have had their own start/class in recent years, and we already have two of those entered. I think the non-spinnaker fleet will be bigger, as you can sail with less crew.

What kinds of logistical problems—if any—have you and the other event organizers encountered this year in light of the pandemic?

We couldn’t do the post-race party, and decided early not to do that. Other logistical issues are how to run the race committee boat with less people and maintain social distancing. We will have some of the RC operate from the club rather than the boat.

Do you have any insider tips that you’d like to share with first-time racers? What about returning racecourse veterans?

It’s a fun course, and the right length (18 miles) for a great day’s sail–whether you are a family sailor and new to racing, or a seasoned racer. We keep the class sizes to around 10 – 12 boats so that the starts are manageable, and we take care to match the boats within the classes not just by PHRF, but also taking into consideration the size and type of boat.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on Narragansett Bay in early September?

In the three years I have run it we have had two with winds in the 20+ knot range, and one where there was little-to-no wind at the start but it filled in later.

This time of year can be a bit windier than a typical summer day .

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Are we talking about standard-issue things like face masks and hand sanitizer, or will crews also be expected to self-quarantine ahead of the race? Also, do you expect that this will be a highly competitive event, or—given the pandemic—is the spirit of this year’s Around the Island Race more about getting out on the water for some friendly racing?

We won’t have the prize-giving ceremony or a party, so that took away the major source of social interaction. Most race crews have probably been together for the summer, as of course have the family crews.

The race has always been primarily aimed at friendly racing as it’s a PHRF event, but we do end up with some top race boats.

Are you seeing more entries that are being crewed by family members or members of the same household this year, given the pandemic?

It’s too early to say. Most entries so far are repeats.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

The club overall is pursuing a greener footprint, and has a sustainability committee for that purpose. Thus, party plates, etc. would all be recyclable.

We have not specifically done anything on the water as we need X amount of safety boats.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

We all realize that this is going to be an unusual year, so everyone, the RC, competitors alike will need to be somewhat flexible, and adapt to possible changes, right up to the day of the race.

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